I feel very fortunate to have many students who love to read. On a team of over 100 sixth grade students, I would guess that about 80% of them would read all day if they could. I've worked hard as the reading teacher on the team to inspire "reading magic" in my room, create a fun and interesting classroom library, and build time for pleasure reading into each and every school day (and now my team teachers do the same). Our students always have SSR books with them. During homeroom, my classroom library is a happening place for any of the 100 kiddos who wish to visit. I'll share more about how my classroom library functions in an upcoming post.
I have to be honest with myself, though, and admit that most students can not acquire necessary reading skills by pleasure reading alone. As an avid reader myself since childhood, it sometimes pains me to break down a story and tackle each skill. There's always a part of me that wants them to "just enjoy the beauty" of every story we read (and sometimes, we do just that). That's the reader part of me. The teacher part of me, though, knows that the benefit of direct reading instruction is undeniable. Even in sixth grade, it's still really needed. I've been a witness to its positive effect on my students' comprehension, appreciation of literature, and standardized test score performance (as well as growth reflected in other data points including benchmark tests, etc.) over the course of the year in sixth grade.
I taught English for so many years that it fit like a glove. When I was asked to teach reading again for the first time in several years, I had to figure out a way to organize the new curriculum that would "make sense"- both to me and my students. There are so many skills to cover, and each skill can be taught in so many different ways. I had to develop some kind of road map that I would feel comfortable following. Although the literature textbook suggests that certain skills be covered while reading specific selections, I would often find myself thinking things like, "This would be perfect for teaching cause and effect," etc. even though the teacher's edition didn't suggest that. I have to admit that I've never been one to follow the teacher's edition.
I sat down with the curriculum guide and the standards and created a checklist of everything I needed to cover in reading for the year. Then I chose all of the selections from the literature textbook that would lend themselves well to the skills. I then created a comprehension packet for each fiction and nonfiction piece (I do poetry a bit differently) that included everything I would like to cover while using that piece. Each packet has its own activities and format.
I'd like to share some completed pages to show how I use this method while teaching one of the short stories in our text. The story "Stray" by Cynthia Rylant is basically about a young girl who finds and bonds with a stray dog despite her parents' insistence that the dog must be taken to the pound when the weather clears.
I start out most of my short stories by using my "Story Suitcase." The top suitcase opens up and there is storage inside. Sometimes I put clues to the setting in the box and ask, "Where will reading take us today?" For "Stray," I used the suitcase to inspire students to predict what the story might be about. I included a dog collar, a paper snowflake, a red heart, and a dollar bill. Each of these items symbolically represents something in the story. Students wrote their predictions in the first section of the packet and we discussed their thoughts. It was amazing how many creative predictions came out of just seeing those four items.
I always include a section to help students activate background knowledge as well before we read.
On the next page, I included new vocabulary I wanted the students to know before reading. We used context clues to identify the meanings of the words.
For "Stray," one of the skills I decided to focus on was using the active reading strategies. We had already covered the strategies and how to use them, and they are posted on my classroom wall (along with the "reading bugs" which serve as part of our mnemonic device).
I included a chart to review the strategies and students drew each strategy's reading bug as well.
When students independently read the story silently, they used a chart in the comprehension packet to record the strategies as they used them. Students also completed comprehension questions at the end of the story.
After class discussion, we continued on to a group activity. Students reread the story in small groups and identified character traits using supporting evidence from the text. They had wonderful conversations as they completed this chart, and I was very impressed with their answers.
I always like to include a page called "Author in the Spotlight." Sometimes this page is at the front and sometimes it is at the end, but I feel it's important. I also feature the author in my Book Nook while we are covering the story.
For "Stray," I decided to use a biography entitled Cynthia Rylant (Library of Author Biographies) by Alice B. McGinty. I shared selected passages with the students and had them record interesting facts about the author.
I then used Cynthia's book Every Living Thing. If you don't have this book, you should check it out! It contains fictional short stories with a common theme of animals that change people's lives. Many of the stories in it are great read alouds in the upper elementary grades where (be still my happy heart) most kiddos love animals. "Stray" is one of the short stories from this book.
I chose the short story "Slower Than the Rest" for a read aloud. As I read the story, students listed similarities between the story and "Stray." I think it's valuable to share multiple pieces by the same author. This way, students can really get a feel for whether or not they like each author's style. Many students wanted to check out Cynthia's biography, Every Living Thing, The Van Gogh Cafe and other books by Cynthia in my library by the time we had finished. They are still being checked out now!
One of the great things about the packet is that you have one place for students to record all notes over the duration of the story. In addition, the packet serves as a great study guide prior to a test or quiz at the end. Naturally, the packet varies depending on the reading selection. I have incorporated music, slide shows, DVD's, video clips, and other tools into the packet completion. The possibilities are endless!
I really feel that using this method helps my students stay organized and focused, and it lets them see how we can use the skills learned in class when we read. I feel my students really connect to each story using this method and ENJOY the story even though we have broken it down. I hope you can take away even one small idea from this that you can make your own and use in your classroom.
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Happy teaching, friends!